Police chief Randall Aragon, who heads the Fairbanks Police Department that has long been accused of racial bias and misconduct in the Fairbanks Four case and others, made a series of shocking remarks following the release of the wrongfully convicted men known as the Fairbanks Four. The comments made in two separate interviews to Alaska media outlets KTVA and the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer marked a sharp departure from the chief’s pervious position and left supporters of the innocence movement wonder who directed his new position.
The four men at the heart of the case- Eugene Vent, George Frese, Kevin Pease, and Marvin Roberts – maintained their innocence for the entire eighteen years of their imprisonment, and refused to sign any terms of release that would not allow them to continue professing their innocence. After a five week evidentiary hearing on the case in which newly unearthed evidence that exposed incredible police and prosecutorial misconduct in the original case, undermined the credibility of the information prosecutors and police used to convict them, and revealed not one but two confessions from the alternate suspects known to the police for many years, the State of Alaska released the men in exchange for a promise from them not to sue the State, city, or individual police officers and prosecutors responsible for wrongfully convicting the men.
Although the State of Alaska, Fairbanks Police, and City of Fairbanks have reached excruciating levels of ridiculousness in their efforts to deny having made any mistakes in the case, and with eighteen years of absurd commentary from officials, the police chief’s remarks following the release of the men still managed to be uniquely offensive to the very concept of justice and every advocate who demanded it.
We will break this down real easy and respond to each of his comments individually.
“It’s like a person gets deferred adjudication for a traffic ticket, you know? You do well and [if] after a year you haven’t got any more tickets, the conviction disappears.”
No, actually, it turns out that being an innocent person convicted of a brutal murder and released after 18 years of fighting back against a deeply troubled system is a little different than a parking ticket disappearing on its own. Like, in every possible way. First there is the difference between committing a traffic infraction – as minor as it may be – and NOT committing a murder. Not only are these two different they are actually opposites. Guilt and Innocence are not the same. Should we all be worried we have a police chief who does not know that? (YES. The answer is YES, that should freak you all out – that is kinda how we got here). Then there is of course the difference between a traffic infraction like, say, running a yellow light, and the brutal kicking murder of an innocent child. They are both illegal, yet, it feels like maybe not comparable? Yes. Totally not comparable. And last but not least there is the glaring difference between a conviction “disappearing” after one year and eighteen years of wrongful imprisonment, day after day after day locked behind bars and chains, the violence, blood, lack of health care, psychological torture, missed moments, utter torment, and the unrelenting fight of a lifetime by yourself, your loved ones, thousands upon thousands of civil rights activists, hundreds of tribes, dozens of attorneys, the Innocence Project, political resolutions, politicians, all culminating in a evidentiary hearing that reveals precisely how you were wronged and who was actually responsible for the brutal murder, and the full dismissal of charges and release by your captors. Those things are pretty different.
Aragon said the settlement “vindicates the police department and prosecutors, and the state released the four not because they believe they’re innocent, but because of political pressure.”
Hahahahaha. What a hilarious, if tasteless joke. Because it is a joke, right? I mean, there is no way that an agent of the law believes they were granted some kind of immunity against responsibility for the violation of civil and constitutional rights through extortion of unlawfully imprisoned citizens, right? And no one in their right mind could have seen the contents of the five week trial where the officers and prosecutor responsible here stammered and lied on the stand and then the state released the wrongfully convicted men before they could be freed by a court and sue, “vindication,” so this is definitely a joke. Well played, chief, for a second we thought you were serious. But be sure to tell that one to the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation, they will LOVE it.
Aragon went on to explain that the FPD would NOT be investigating John Hartman’s murder because it is closed (ie they still consider the Fairbanks Four guilty) and they have “no viable leads.”
“If anything ever pops up, any viable leads that would be workable that would lead us to believe someone else was involved, we would begin further investigation,” Aragon said. “At this point, we don’t have anybody else to look at as far as further investigation.”
“Whatever happened on that case, they’re no longer incarcerated. They’re turned loose,” Aragon said.
OHHHHHH MYYYYYY GOOOOOODDDDD How is this even real?
The Fairbanks Four were freed because they are innocent. The State of Alaska does not arbitrarily free killers. They did not kill John Hartman and any comment which insinuates that for the purpose of preventing liability or pleasing a higher up is a morally repugnant thing for any human, let alone one purporting to be an agent of justice, to say.
A fight for justice is a fight for JUSTICE. John Hartman was beaten to death for no reason, in a hate crime, as a little kid. He deserves justice. Bringing his killers to the court should trump any pursuit of ego, money or reputation. The FPD should investigate ALL leads. Investigate the Fairbanks four and the rest of the innocent all you like. But by all means, if you have not been able to find a viable lead, we can help there.
Jason Wallace, Shelmar Johnson, Marquez Pennington, and William Holmes killed John Hartman. There’s a lead that just “popped” up. We know that because TWO OF THEM CONFESSED. Their SWORN testimony is part of the public record and the chief himself sat and listened to it. William Holmes passed a lie detector to prove his confession was true, and even wrote it down and sent it directly to FPD who “basically, uh, didn’t do anything with it,” according to the officer who received it.
Perhaps not so into the reading? The mountain of evidence against the people who actually confessed to the crime was lost on you in person? Here is Holmes ON VIDEO if that helps.
If this murder cannot be solved we are all in serious danger, because this is as easy as an investigation gets. When the original officers failed to do it properly, the Alaska Innocence Project and the Alaska State Troopers came along and did it for them, then handed them the answer. If they can’t figure this one out then we have more problems within our justice system than even we knew about, and we are jaded over here.
“We questioned it, too. We aligned with the prosecution, me and my investigators,” Aragon said. “There were doubts that was credible. My staff has never felt, at any point, that they were traveling in the wrong direction.”
Okay, well then you are going to want to fire those people that never felt they were maybe headed in the wrong direction. For incompetence. It is very important to question ones direction when all empirical evidence indicates the direction is dead wrong, especially when lives are at stake. They should be fired for some seriously disturbing confirmation bias driven incompetence.
“There’s got to be a calm. A cloud has been hanging over our great city. It’s kind of going away,” Aragon said.
We really want it to go away too, but somehow reading your comments served as the huge reminder that there is no end in sight. For real, please, knock it off. Actions and words against justice by agents of justice hang over this golden heart city like an unlifting fog, and we would super appreciate it if you guys would just stop.
At this point in the interview the chief shows off a photo of himself with a Native leader and a necklace, and basically insinuates that he and the Native community are all cool, and that indeed perhaps agree with him, saying, Natives “Wanna build a bridge and walk across it all together. And that’s what I’m looking forward to.” Because, you know, a comment made to him by one man in a completely different context on a totally different topic means every indigenous person in town agrees with him forever now.
Oh, dear. We think maybe you mistook BURNING bridges for building them.
Another roadblock for the FPD in investigating the alternate suspects? They claim they do not know where they are. We can help there, too.
Rashan Brown is in prison, in Oregon State penitentiary, because after you failed to arrest him for killing John Hartman he killed a pregnant woman and a young man. That’s one of the reasons we need to arrest killers – they kill people.
Shelmar Johnson, longtime drug dealer, burglar, who supplied weapons for at least one murder, is currently in Orlando, Florida.
Marquez Penninton, longtime drug dealer and woman beater, is here in the greater Fairbanks area, sharing streets with our children, exactly where the entire community was terrified the killers of John Hartman would end up back in 1997.
William Holmes is in prison in California, because after you failed to arrest him for killing John Hartman, he killed two young men execution style an dumped them on the highway before heading off to execute his plan to kill an entire family including a little girl. Again, it’s important to arrest killers. They kill people. Like human people. Kind of a huge deal.
Jason Wallace is in prison in Seward, which the FPD and state know, because they’re in pretty tight with him. And he is there because after they failed to arrest him for killing John Hartman he….yes, he killed more people. Again, we need to arrest killers because of the killing. But Wallace is in a category all his own. Last time he was in a squad car it was for killing an unarmed woman with a hammer, after which an officer took him to McDonalds because he felt bad Wallace would not be eating a burger for a long time. Unfortunately, he cannot be prosecuted for killing John Hartman because the State gave him immunity in the obscene effort to keep innocent men in prison. He CAN however be prosecuted for the perjury for lying on the stand. Oh, and it’s pretty obvious that he killed Mahogany Davis, three weeks after she had a baby and in front of her kids. And in general he seems to be super dangerous sociopath. So maybe look into that.
If all else fails and you cannot find Marquez Pennington and Shelmar Johnson with outside records, check your own. We are pretty sure they should be easy to find on your own informant list.
When reporters informed Bill Oberly of the Alaska Innocence project that the FPD Chief Aragon claimed to have no viable leads to investigate he said, “That’s ridiculous. We know who did it, a guy got up on the stand and confessed to it, and another guy told four other people he did it. And that’s not viable?”
We could summarize what Police Chief Aragon said that way and save you time – it’s ridiculous.
So now, Aragon and other agents of justice, we imagine you are off to celebrate the birth of the most famous man in the world. A wrongfully convicted man. You may want to read up on that.
Readers, we are so sorry that this isn’t over, but we know you already knew that.
The story of the Fairbanks Four is much older and much bigger than four young men. It is our story, the story of this place, this people, this country. And you have to keep fighting, because we have to be the ones to write the ending.